Victoria Lions Club celebrates 40 years of helping others
When driving over the ridge from Carbonear into the picturesque community of Victoria, a park featuring several picnic tables and a gazebo overlooking the town below welcomes you.
In front of the park directly next to the road stands a large sign marked with the very recognizable yellow and blue Lions Club International symbol erected by the local chapter as a donation to the town.
For 40 years, the club has been helping out local causes and organizations and are still very active in the community.
They call the current Victoria Community Centre on the main highway — former Lions club building — home.
A group of four members — Elihu Antle, Walter (Vivian) Hiscock, Muriel Brewer and Frank Antle — sit around a table at their meeting place discussing some past times and favourite memories from the very beginning.
And so it begins
On June 16, 1973 a group of 21 local men gathered to charter the Victoria Lions Club.
From the very beginning the ambition was clear, they wanted to help as many people as they could, so they found a place to meet.
“Our first dinner meeting was held at the ‘Pig and Whistle,’” says Elihu, a chartered member of the club. “That was the first and only one held there.”
“Pig and Whistle” was a television show about an English pub that aired from 1967 to 1977, and it became the nickname of a local dart and drinking hangout owned by, now deceased member, Stanley Clarke.
Stanley painted benches for the club to sit on, but the paint hadn’t dried by the time the meeting began.
“Most of the guys had green paint on the seat of their pants,” Vivian, another chartered member, laughs acknowledging he, too, was covered.
Elihu said their first building was an old antique shop that was towed next to where the current building stands today.
In Nov. 1976, construction began on a new building, and the group has called it home ever since.
Less than a decade ago, the Lions determined the price to maintain the building was too much.
“Every cent we made was being put into this place with nothing left for donations,” Frank, club secretary and brother to Elihu explains.
The town decided to purchase the building and the club now rents the space for meetings and to cook dinners for their fundraisers.
Fundraising and donations
For the past four decades the club has given away “well over half a million dollars” raised through fundraising efforts to different charities.
“We can’t really determine a complete dollar value when we give more than (monetary) donations,” Elihu says.
The very first cause the organization gave to was to the residents of Harbour Breton after a landslide that took with it homes and belongings.
The most recent donation is for the Calgary flood disaster, which the club says they will be sending soon.
“When Igor swept through Newfoundland a few years ago, many international Lions Clubs sent help to us,” Elihu says. “We, in turn, give back.”
Every year the club also donates to the Lion Max Simms Memorial Camp in Bishop’s Falls for children with disabilities, the Lions Foundation of Canada that trains guide dogs and hosts a World Service Day event for widows and widowers of Victoria. They are also the sponsor for the Victoria army cadet corps. “In 1975 we purchased our first wheelchair to loan to residents at no cost,” club president Muriel says. The group does not know the exact number of locals they are helping with this program, but they currently have many wheelchairs, hospital beds, walkers and bath seats loaned out.
“They just return it when it is no longer needed,” Muriel continues,
The club has also donated money for many international causes, including helping get 35-million children in Africa vaccinated against the measles.
Success in fundraising
The group tells stories and makes jokes about their most memorable event, the demolition derby held for three years in the late 1970s. The event was expected to bring in a couple hundred people, Vivian said, but some 5,000 people arrived the day of the first derby.
“Cars kept coming,” he said. “We made $10,000 on the gate in cash.”
The fear of being in possession of that much money scared Vivian quite a bit, so he put the money in a suitcase and took it immediately to a safe at the town hall.
As a result of fundraising efforts like the derby, take-out dinners and radio bingo, they are also able to host a Christmas dinner for seniors every year, supply hundreds of school children with goody-bags for Christmas, sponsor the annual Santa Claus parade event and supply the first of July caplin boilup with food, including 16 loaves of homemade bread.
The volunteering is plentiful, and the group agrees they couldn’t see themselves ever leaving the club.
On top of the busy schedule the Lions have, they are also looking to assist the next generation of Lions to help grow and sustain the organization.
Four former presidents of the Victoria Lions Club stop off at the club-donated park at the entrance of the town. Observing the park are, from left, current president Muriel Brewer, chartered member Walter (Vivian) Hiscock, chartered member Elihu Antle and club secretary Frank Antle.